A review of the continuation. Or reboot. Or remake. Or whatever. From Death Ray 16.
Writer: David Andron
Starring: Justin Bruening, Paul Campbell, Yancey Arias, Deanna Russo, Val Kilmer.
The latest iteration of the talking car show has failed to wow critics stateside. We’ve seen a few episodes, here’s our verdict.
Like a beautiful classic car struggling up a modern motorway, Knight Rider‘s biggest problem is that of context. This remake manages, just, to recapture the spirit of 80s adventure SF. Ten years ago this would probably have been a hit, but now? Times have changed, and Knight Rider‘s cheese feels outdated. It’s being broadcast at a time when TV SF is going through a bloom. We’ve had dozens of fantastical TV shows over the last few years, and though by no means all have been good, there have been enough jewels to silence the mardiest cynic. SF TV is no longer just about a gimmick.
The show makers have half-grasped this. There’s a glossy skin of 21st of intrigue, sex and violence round the middle, as conspicuous as Edam’s waxy coat, but this is wholly misjudged and just as inedible. Knight Rider‘s bright simplicity does not take the added complications well. The concept, as always, is aimed at kids, so how’s that work with a man getting his thumb cut off? Do 10 year-olds really need to watch a sexy bikini party? Most offensive is the sociopathic nature of the supporting cast. We have Zoe (Smith Cho) linguistics expert and obscene flirt whose joy at her colleagues discomfort is downright callous; there’s a dodgy government stooge Alex Torres (Yancey Arras); Battlestar Galactica‘s Paul Campbell plays another character called Billy, though this one is an unlikeable, porn-obsessed nerd, while Bruce Davison as KITT’s creator Charles Graiman wanders round their hi-tech base, hysterically bawling at Knight as if he were his daughter’s irresponsible teen boyfriend. Which, age apart, he is. At least the original had its morals more or less in the right place.
The darkening up of the concept adds the whiff of treachery to this detestable bunch. Half the characters encountered appear to have had a bad experience in “I-raq”, and Michael Knight’s patently done some really bad stuff he can’t remember. For a series which is trying to emulate the original’s orthodontically enhanced, bubble-permed charm, this is playing with fire. Let us not call into account the sloppy film-making, the poor location work, the repeated shots of the same bit of road. Let’s leave unturned the stones of bad science. It’s broad mass-market TV, and these things are of secondary importance to this kind of telly. Charm, however is crucial, but even Hasselhoff’s unctuous brand of smarm might not have been enough to glue this revamp together. It’s a kid’s show recreated by middle-aged geeks, and their biggest mistake is to make it “adult” without making it grow up.
The car’s still the star, the new KITT is realised with escapist glee, with Kilmer as his voice being appropriately deadpan. Such is the strength of Knight Rider‘s core ideas, if NBC can sort out the juvenile mess round it, and make it just for kids, it could still have a ratings hit.